by Carolyn ElisMs. Ellis is Featiures Editor for Advisor Magazine and Advisor e-newsLink. Connect with her at email@example.com
On March 1, Sun Life Financial announced that it was completing its purchase of the U.S. Employee Benefits business of Assurant, Inc. We spoke with Kevin Krzeminski, SVP of Distribution for Sun Life Financial U.S. about the implications of this increase in scale. As Sun Life moves to become the sixth largest U.S. Distributor of employee benefits, Krzeminski is excited about the wider array of products, enhanced opportunities for distribution, and larger talent pool that come with the acquisition.
Advisor Mag: How does Sun Life’s recent acquisition of Assurant’s employee benefits business serve both parties?
KK: When you look at the financials behind it, the acquisition presents excellent complementary scale in the employee benefits space and ultimately moves us up to become the sixth largest group benefits carrier in the US. Within Sun Life it aligns perfectly with our strategy of growing domestically and being a leader in the U.S. employee benefits space.
Advisor Mag: Are you driving change in this arena or responding?
KK: Some of both. For us, one of the exciting areas that comes with the Assurant business is the work they’ve done in the voluntary benefits space. This work includes the growth and shift in that space, from employers’ perspective in how they are designing their benefits offerings, and from a brokers’ perspective, in how they are using those products to fill customer needs and execute their own growth strategy.
Another shift that this is helping to address is that brokers are looking for carrier partners that can bring multiple levels of solution to their customers. In my conversations with brokers and key influencers, I hear that they want to narrow the number of carriers they do business with.
To stay on top, carriers need to be fully equipped for multiple product solutions and service and capability solutions. Combining the Assurant portfolio with the strong Sun Life portfolio puts us in a unique position to assist our broker partners.
Advisor Mag: Did you have to talk Assurant into selling to you?
KK: It was a competitive process, because Assurant has a strong history and great reputation. The process required us to present ourselves and our interests not only in a financial way but also in a strategic way. We demonstrated that we value their business and their people. We were thrilled when we won the business.
Advisor Mag: How does this acquisition fit with Sun Life’s global strategy?
KK: This acquisition fits right into our global, four-pillar strategy. One of the four pillars is the U.S. group benefits business. The acquisition of Assurant increases our scale in that business from about $2.6 billion to around $4 billion.
In Canada Sun Life is the No. 1 provider of employee benefits insurance. Coupling the existing Sun Life position with this acquired Assurant position, we become an extremely large and financially strong entity.
Advisor Mag:And the other three pillars?
KK: Other pillars are to continue to be a leader in financial protection and wealth solutions in Canada, which is Sun Life’s home marketplace. We’ll continue to be a premier global asset manager; that pillar is anchored by our MFS business. The fourth pillar is growth in our Asia business through an outstanding distribution organization targeting high market growth areas.
Advisor Mag: With Assurant what new capabilities have you acquired?
KK: Although Sun Life was in the dental business previously, Assurant had a far superior offering, the No. 2 largest PPO dental network in the US. It’s a well-known product underneath a great brand.
In their voluntary benefits offering, Assurant has invested in benefits communications, around reporting and administration of voluntary programs.
Also through the acquisition, we obtained a dedicated business unit called Disability RMS that partners with other insurance carriers to provide disability products, a new capability for us. Another very important piece to the whole transaction is the 1,700 Assurant employees that have joined the Sun Life team. These talented, highly qualified colleagues will enhance our ability to execute our growth strategies.
Advisor Mag: Tell us more about the capabilities in benefits communications that Assurant brings.
KK: Assurant has strong enrollment results at the employee decision level. These come from the strong individual employee engagements and meetings they have developed to help employees understand the benefit offering and the needs those products meet from the consumers’ perspective.
Advisor Mag: This new huge scale you have, can we set this in context?
KK: With the two organizations combined, we’re going to have over 60,000 customer groups, employer groups that we’re providing insurance products to. That brings with it a very large broker channel that we both built with strong brand reputations.
We are now well-positioned to serve the three primary segments of the market: the small market, employers with fewer than 100 employees; the middle market; and the large employer market with 2,000 to 3,000 lives and above.
AdvisorMag: Sounds like a marriage made in heaven. What about bringing together these two cultures?
KK: Both companies have a culture of caring. You see that in the way that each company approaches the marketplace and the focus we each have on the customer and our claimants.
Advisor Mag: Will there be expanded roles for IT and big data?
KK: Sun Life has been very focused on over the past several years in bringing sophisticated analytics and benchmarking capabilities to our brokers and customers so that they can make more informed decisions. Assurant, too, has been working on analytics, particularly to help brokers analyze the opportunities within their existing books of business for growth opportunities.
Advisor Mag: What impact will this acquisition have on your customers and distributors?
KK: We think the impact is going to be very positive, because we are going to have a broader portfolio to bring to our legacy customers. This will be important as we look at cross-selling opportunities. Our stop-loss product is a very good example. We believe the customer experience will be more positive as individuals see more value from us, more solutions, and more expertise.
From a brokers’ perspective, we have a very specific goal: we want to be their carrier of choice. We want them to know that Sun Life is an organization that they need to be representing because of the capabilities, the service offerings, and the strength of the company behind these products.
Talent is not an easy thing to build or acquire. We’ve just put ourselves in an awesome position through bringing Assurant into the Sun Life family. That gives me tremendous confidence in our future and what we’re going to be able to bring to our customers and our broker partners. ◊